Straight Talk Advice

Mom hates new Stepmom, wants kids to hate her too

Mar 17, 2015

Mom’s insecurity puts kids in the middle after Dad leaves her

Dear Straight Talk: Our mom can’t get over our dad leaving her for someone else and expects us to hate our dad’s live-in girlfriend. She constantly badmouths them, grills us about our visitations and expects us to join in. We don’t tell our mom, but we like our dad’s girlfriend. She's good to us. If our mom could just meet someone else, I think she could let go of her hatred, but she seems determined to hold on to this. Since we go back and forth, how can we best deal with this? —16 in Toledo, Ohio

Elle 19, Mifflintown, Penn. Ask me a question

Your mom was severely betrayed. Of course she's upset and irrational. She's also scared she'll be forgotten or replaced. Show sympathy. Assure her of her importance and affirm it with walks, movies, spas, cooking her dinner, sharing about your day. Then open up about the discomfort when she grills you. I'm going through a similar situation. I'm not usually very open so it's challenging, but expressing my love and being a comforting, emotionally-available daughter and sibling is really helping everyone.

Samantha 23, Toledo, Ohio Ask me a question

My dad passed away in 2008 and my mom had a new boyfriend in 2009. My brothers and I lashed out in anger, hurt and fear. It took our mom's constant reassurance that she wasn't replacing our father, the man just made her happy. Similarly, you need to reassure your mom that your dad's girlfriend will never replace her. She simply makes him happy, she's good to you, and that's all that matters.

Karlee 17, Bentleyville, Penn, Ask me a question

My mother was determined to make me hate my stepmother. Being a people-pleaser, I went along at first. But my stepmom is good to us. Finally, I took my mom aside and said, “I get you don't like her. But I'm tired of the bitterness and badmouthing.” Sounds harsh, but she checked herself from them on. My mom recently got into a relationship and now she and my stepmother are almost friends — weird right?

Icis 16, Detroit, Mich. Ask me a question

At four, I awoke to a light-skinned lady, unrecognizable to my eyes (my African-American family lived in a dominantly black area) folding my towels! I instantly disliked her. She looked like an alien to my childish mind. But after a formal introduction, for a split second I actually fancied her. Then it was time to visit Mommy. The possibility of one's seed calling someone else your title, or being exiled from your child's life is frightful, so she said things no 4-year-old should hear. My split second of fondness evaporated. Those dreadful times molded me. I asked how she got over it and she said her cursing didn't harm the new couple, her venting, prying and retaliating only pushed us away and made her tired, stressed and less able to enjoy what was most important: her children.

Justin 17, Brentwood, Calif. Ask me a question

Gratefully, my divorced parents didn't put me in this situation.

Brandon 23, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

The toughest thing a mother can hear is that an outside woman is doing a great job with her kids. Thus, being brutally honest isn't recommended, but some honesty is. Truthfully, your relationship with your father's girlfriend isn't her business.

Meghan 20, State College, Penn. Ask me a question

Distract your mother with movies, events, cooking, etc. When she starts up, say, “We know you want to talk about them, but it makes us upset. Why don't we do  x, y or z instead?” She'll get the message if you do this continually.

Kat 19, Eugene, Ore. Ask me a question

Family is about comforting without judgment. Your mom is hurt and insecure. Her acting out is her need to feel loved and cherished. Give her hugs and tell her you love her. Don't mention liking your stepmother at this stage, just say it's hard for you, too, and you want peace.

Dear 16: The panel identifies three simple healing steps: Lavishly assure your mother she will never be replaced, firmly say no to her sounding off, mercifully refrain from praising the stepmother.

  1. By C.S., age 16, from Elk Grove, California, USA on 03/17/2015

    Our mom hates our new stepmom “Shirley” and expects my sister and me to do the same, but in our case it is even harder to understand.  Our dad did not even meet Shirley until long after their divorce so, it’s not as if he left our mom for her or that she caused the break up.  We want both of our parents to be happy, and are glad that our dad is happy with his new wife and wish the same could happen for our mom.  However, we learned very fast that we had better not say anything positive about Shirley.  Our mom badmouths her and expects us to agree with her, so we just keep silent for the most part.  Shirley’s probably going to be our stepmom for a very long time, so we want to be on friendly terms with her and see no reason not to.

    Even harder to understand, our mom doesn’t even like the fact that we’re becomming good friends with our new stepsister “Amy”.  All three of us have to share a room during visitations, so it’s good that we can be friends.  Unlike some stepsisters I’ve heard about from my friends and read about in Straight Talk, Amy is very good about sharing her room with us and never complains even with the crowded conditions of 3 girls sharing a relatively small room.  The three of us take turns sharing her double bed with one of us sleeping on an air mattress on the floor, but it has actually worked out quite well.  My sister has always been very shy about undressing in front of anyone but me, but she’s become totally comfortable with Amy even when she’s naked because Amy’s the type of person who makes you feel comfortable. 

    Shirley also respects our privacy better than our own mom and always knocks before coming in the bedroom which doesn’t have a lock, whereas our mom just barges in our room whenever she feels like it.  We don’t have a problem with either Shirley or our mom coming in if we happen to be undressed, but we really appreciate the way that Shirley respects our privacy.

    We really don’t understand why our mom hates Shirley (and even dislikes Amy) and doesn’t want us to have a good relationship with them when they both are very good to us and have done nothing wrong.


    Reply to this comment

    1. By LAUREN, from on 03/22/2015

      C.S.—It all boils down to your mom’s worry about being replaced or left alone while the “other” family thrives. This feeling can happen whether the stepmother caused the breakup, or entered the picture long after the divorce (as in your case). The solution is the same in both cases, you have to constantly reassure her of her value and that she won’t ever be replaced. The panel gives lots of good ideas of how to show her as well as tell her. It also helps to not talk much about the other family. Obviously you don’t want to go along with bashing them and it’s good to ask her to stop with that, but spare her the glowing details. Enjoy your new family while you’re with them and then enjoy your mom when you’re with her. It will work better for you if you simply separate the environments and accept that your mom will probably never want to revel in the other household’s joys. Good luck!—Love, Lauren

      Reply to this comment

  2. By Judy, age 15, from Lodi, CA on 03/17/2015

    My issue is somewhat different, but related.  It’s my stepsister who hates my mom (her stepmom).  I never see her mom, but from what I’ve heard from my stepdad, she also hates my mom and I think she’s poisoned my stepsister against her.  Like many stepsisblings, we have to share a room during visitations and I have to listen to my stepsister badmouth my mom and I feel that I must defend her which makes it difficult to get along sharing a room.  My room doesn’t have a lock and my mom has never knocked before coming in and it has never bothered me like it does some people I’ve read about.  Since she’s used to doing this, she came in one time without thinking about it when my stepsister happened to just be in her bra and thong underwear.  She was furious with my mom and accused her of “grossly invading her privacy.”  My mom apologized and promised to always knock in the future when my stepsister’s here, but my stepsister still won’t forgive her and still uses it against her.  I don’t see what the big deal is since they’re both females and my stepsister isn’t shy even about nudity in front of me in the bedroom even though we don’t get along too well.  And my mom has kept her promise and now always knocks first when my stepsister is here.  I really think she was just looking for something to get angry with my mom about and would find something else if it hadn’t been for this.  I really think my stepsister should give my mom a chance and think it’s sad that her mom has caused her to feel this way.


    Reply to this comment

  3. By Ellen, age 15, from Anaheim, CA on 03/17/2015

    My new stepmom had been my mom’s best friend ever since they’d been 5 or 6 years old.  She was so close to our family, that I grew up calling her “Aunt Jenny” (not her real name).  She sometimes even spent the night at our house and shared my room and bed, and I was always totally comfortable sharing a bed with her and undressing in front of her. 

    Due to the betrayal of her having an affair with my dad behind her back and then marrying him after my dad left my mom for her, my mom now REALLY, REALLY hates her guts!  I’m not saying that it was right for her to have an affair with my dad, but I always really liked Aunt Jenny and I still do, but my mom demands that I hate her for “destroying our family.” But I don’t hate her, and I think it’s unfair for my mom to make this demand.  When I go there for visitations, I’m able to talk to her about things I can’t talk to my mom about and I’m comfortable with her seeing me nude when I want to talk about things regarding my maturing female body, but I’ve never been comfortable about such things with my mom or with her seeing me nude because she acts very embarrassed and uncomfortable the rare times that she sees me, and her face literally turns beet red.

    It seemed awkward to keep calling her Aunt Jenny now that she’s my stepmom, so we decided that I would just call her Jenny, but I’m not going to hate her just because my mom does and demands that I hate her too.


    Reply to this comment

    1. By M.H., age 17, from Redding, CA on 03/18/2015

      Give your mom a break!  Who wouldn’t hate a former best friend who had an affair with her husband behind her back and then married him?  It’s also understandable that she would expect you to hate her also, someone so close to your family that you called her “Aunt Jenny.”  Hatred isn’t good for anyone, so I’m not saying that you should make yourself hate her if you don’t, but your mom’s feelings are perfectly understandable.  My parents went their separate ways by mutual agreement and my dad has remarried, but my mom has no animosity toward my new stepmom who had nothing to do with the end to their marriage.  My new stepmom is nice to me, but she’s trying too hard to be a mom to me which I don’t need since I already have a mom.  She tries to talk to me about female issues like my periods and whether I shave and wax which I’m not comfortable talking to her about and don’t feel is any of her business.  She’s also very casual around the house and goes to the shower nude and walks around in her bra and thong in front of me even starting the first weekend I was there and doesn’t see a problem since “we’re both girls,” but it still makes me somewhat uncomfortable since I don’t even know her that well yet. 


      Reply to this comment

  4. By Ellie, age 41, from Westminster, California on 03/18/2015

    My husband’s ex and his daughter also hate me, and I don’t understand why.  As with C.S., I did not even meet him until long after their divorce so it’s not like I had an affair with a married man and “stole” him away and broke up their family as Ellen describes.  That situation is more understandable.  I rarely see my husband’s ex, but on the rare ocassions that I do see her she acts very hateful toward me even though I do my best to be cordial.  The bigger problem is my 15 year old stepdaughter who stays with us every other weekend on vistations.  She is also very hateful toward me even though I have tried my best to be good to her.  I have 2 teenage daughters and a teenage son from a prior marriage who live with us.  Since we don’t have an extra bedroom and she and my son are obviously far too old to share a room as opposite sexes, there is no choice but for her to share my daughters’ room.  Admittedly, it makes for crowded conditions, but that’s just the way it is.  My daughters don’t complain, but my stepdaughter constantly complains about the conditions.  My daughers even take turns sleeping on a mattress on the floor while she sleeps in one of their beds and she never takes a turn sleeping on floor and always has one of the nice beds, but she still complains and also makes a scene if she doesn’t get her way 100% of the time.  The room doesn’t have a lock and my daughters don’t care if I come in when they are undressed or nude.  However, I respect my stepdaughter’s privacy when she’s here by always knocking and making sure that it is alright to come in.  No matter what we do, she is very hostile toward all of us even though we have done nothing wrong and make every effort we can to accommodate her and make her feel welcome and comfortable.


    Reply to this comment

    1. By LAUREN, from on 03/22/2015

      Ellie—There’s nothing you can do except continue to be kind and let it roll off your back. The girl is obviously in solidarity with her mother who is unhappily alone and can’t bear to think of her ex being happy and in a family. It’s also hard to know the behind-closed-doors dynamics of your two daughters and the “odd girl out” who has attitude. But something going on there could be exacerbating things. It’s hard to know. I would take your daughters aside and discuss all of this frankly and get them to open up on what it’s like and insist that they be compassionate by imagining themselves in the girl’s shoes of having to go alone to another family with 3 siblings who’ve all been together since birth.

      Once she turns 16, if it’s still a problem for the girl, it might be a kinder approach for her to set up one-on-one daddy daughter times (dinner dates, etc.) and do fewer overnight visitations, which usually are more about integrating stepsiblings than the former parent actually spending time with his/her child.

      Reply to this comment

  5. By C.C., age 16, from Petaluma, California on 03/19/2015

    My stepmom had also been a family friend who had an affair with my dad and he ended up leaving my mom for her.  My mom now hates her, and yes, so do I!  Maybe it’s a double standard because I realize that my dad was an equal participant and I don’t hate him (and still love him very much), but it still was very wrong for her to have an affair with a married man, especially a family friend. 

    To complicate matters further, her daughter who is now my stepsister had been a long time good friend of mine.  In addition, I’ve had a secret crush on her son who is now my stepbrother.  How is that for a convoluted situation? 

    I share a room and bed with my stepsister/friend during visitations, but that’s nothing new as we’d already had many sleepovers and were already comfortable sharing a room and bed and undressing in front of each other and seeing each other nude, etc., so in that respect it was an easier adjustment than it is for many stepsiblings who have to share a room during visitations.  However, I find it very hard to be nice to my stepmom and pretend that I don’t hate her.  She goes out of her way to be super nice to me, probably because she feels guilty about breaking up our family, which is an additional reason I feel forced to hold in my hatred for her.  However, I can’t help how I feel and it’s eating me up not being able to express it.


    Reply to this comment

    1. By LAUREN, from on 03/22/2015

      CC—The feeling of resentment is understandable and I commend you for not expressing it to her. As you already know, since you are so self-aware, it won’t help anything. But it will help you to express it to the right person and for that I recommend talking to a pastor (if you attend church), or a counselor, or a trusted adult confidante… maybe a grandparent or aunt who can keep confidence. ALL kids from divorce can really use some counseling and I would think your parents would spring for it if you asked. Or visit the school counselor, that’s what they are there for.

      Keep on being aware and extend this to the secret crush on your stepbrother—another thing to keep unexpressed. Though not incest since you are not related, he is now family and any level of engagement beyond being friends will bring horrible awkwardness no matter how it works out. It’s not worth it! Talk to a counselor about this as well and distract yourself with other secret crushes at school, or even better, a hobby that furthers you, until it goes away. So glad you wrote and expressed to us!—Love, Lauren

      Reply to this comment

  6. By Karen, age 15, from Santa Ana, CA on 03/20/2015

    This is timely since my sister and I will be going for our first visitation with our dad and his new wife in about an hour.  As with C.C. we both resent our new stepmom for having an affair with our dad and breaking up our family.  Even though our dad was equally to blame we just somehow can’t help resenting her more.  We’re nervous since we don’t want to make waves by showing our resentment.  Our mom also has alot of resentment toward both of them, but she’s told us to be nice and “be on our best behavior.”  We don’t even know what to call her.  So far when we’ve seen her we’ve avoided calling her by name, but that can’t go on forever when we stay there.  We’re certainly not going to call her “Mom,” but don’t feel comfortable calling her “Kathlee” (not her real name” and it seems to formal to call her “Mrs. Jones” since she’s now our stepmom, so we don’t know what we’re going to do.

    The sleeping arrangements are also going to be difficult.  They just have a 2 bedroom apartment and her son and daughter who are 12 and 14 share a room.  I don’t think that’s appropriate for the reasons that have been written about in Straight Talk, but that’s not our issue to worry about.  However, since there’s not an extra room for us, they’re going to make our stepbrother sleep on the couch and we’ll have to sleep 3 in a room with our stepsister.  We’re concerned that both of them are going to resent us because of this, but we can’t help it.  Also, we’re not comfortable undressing if front of people we don’t really know.  We share a room and have no problem with each other or with our friends, but we don’t really even know our new stepsister, so this is also going to be awkward at least in the beginning.

    Hopfully, things will work out in time, but right now I’m nervous and so is my sister since we’re leaving a short time from now.


    Reply to this comment

    1. By Pam, age 16, from Carmichael, CA on 03/20/2015

      I think you should just ask your stepmom what she’d like to be called if you don’t know what to call her.  That’s what I did and she suggested that I call her by her first name and that’s worked out just fine.  I also had resentment toward her for reasons similar to what you and the others have written, but it slowly went away in time and now we have a really good relationship, so I say give it time as things like this don’t resolve overnight.  I was also nervous about sharing a room with my stepsisters but they were actually nice about it and made me feel welcome even with the crowded conditions of 3 in a room that’s not very big for 2 to share.  I was also nervous about the “undressing” issue, but it only took me the first weekend to get over it.  I realized that there was nothing to worry about since we were all girls and all the same and that it was no different than undressing in front of my friends at sleepovers and slumber parties which had never been a problem for me, and they weren’t the least bit interested in looking at me when they saw me naked any, and now I’m totally comfortable with them.


      Reply to this comment

    2. By Gail, age 16, from Toledo, Ohio on 03/21/2015

      I was also very nervous about visiting my dad and his new live-in girlfriend the first time.  I had never even met her as my dad avoided having us see them together.  However, my mom said terrible things about her to me to try to make me hate her in advance.  My dad didn’t even meet her until after they had split up, so she had nothing to do with the breakup, so I couldn’t understand why my mom was so hateful toward her.  I decided to give her a chance, and I really like her even though my mom doesn’t.  I was also nervous about sharing a room with her daughter who isn’t technically my stepsister since they aren’t married.  However, she was very gracious about sharing her room with me and even willingly slept on the air mattress on the floor and gave me her bed, but I insisted on taking turns in the future.  I’m also shy about undressing in front of girls I don’t know well, but I felt totally comfortable with her seeing me nude right from the start and was even comfortable when my dad’s girlfriend came in the room when I was just in my bra and thong, but she did knock first which I appreciated.

      My mom doesn’t like the fact that I have a good relationship with my dad’s girlfriend and her daughter, but I’m not going to let that stop me as I’m the one who stays with them every other weekend.


      Reply to this comment

    3. By LAUREN, from on 03/22/2015

      Karen—Pam and Gail’s advice is great and I’m glad they shared their positive experiences (thank you Pam and Gail). I hope you checked here and saw it, or if not, can apply things to next time. The first visit is always the hardest, like the first day at a new school. Some step kids really can find solidarity with each other, and some kids can let go of resentments toward the adult who broke their original family up, but it’s usually in situations where they can separate themselves from the “crazy parents” and realize they are living their own lives apart from the divorces. In life, it’s always up to each person to find their own happiness. You don’t have to take on your parents’ stuff. Please let us know how the weekend went.—Love, Lauren

      Reply to this comment

  7. By S.L., age 41, from Auburn, CA on 03/22/2015

    My husband had an affair with my own sister when she was separated from her husband, and they married after both divorces were final.  My sister and I are close in age and had always been very close in every way.  We grew up sharing a room and even a bed and confided in each other about our most intimate feelings as teenagers and beyond.  The hurt from this gross betrayal was (and still is) incredible!  Yes, I now hate my sister and it is also now impossible to have family events where we both attend, and it also makes matters very difficult for our elderly parents as well as our brother and his family.

    This means that my teenage son and daughter’s aunt is now there stepmother.  My husband has visitation rights to which he is legally entitled, but my son and daughter find it very awkward to have their aunt as their stepmother.  Yes, I have expressed my hatred for my sister to them and expect them to share my feelings for someone who committed such a gross betrayal.  They also make my son and daughter share their spare room which makes them feel very uncomfortable at their ages.  However, when they tried having my daughter share a room with her cousin, my sister’s daughter, they ended up in bitter fights and arguments about the situation with each one taking her own mother’s side.  They are able to handle to opposite sexes “undressing” issue by agreeing to turn the other way when they undress, but still find it uncomfortable to share a room at their ages. 

    I have told them to be civil to their aunt/stepmother, but they find it hard to hide their resentment and I feel that it is unfair for them to be in this position.


    Reply to this comment

  8. By LAUREN, from on 03/22/2015

    S.L.—What an extremely difficult situation, and that’s an understatement. What were they thinking?? Whatever it was, it was about as destructive as it gets, and I’m so sorry. That said, they did it, and now, for the sake of the children, I hope you consider some family counseling. Or if you can’t afford it, at the very minimum, some counseling for yourself. It’s possible to find a place within yourself, where FOR YOUR CHILDREN (not because you have forgiven your sister or husband this travesty), but where, for your children’s emotional sake, you cool your outrage in front of them. Somehow, you need to communicate to them that since this is the reality, you don’t want them to be damaged any further by your pain.  You give them their own experience and release them from carrying yours. You have to somehow assure them that they don’t need to be your advocates and that you are going to be alright. If they see you taking new directions and forming new hobbies or paths that are constructive, it is a model for them to do the same.

    I would think with your family of origin, you would insist on alternating events so you don’t have to attend things together.

    You don’t say the age of your children, but as I said to Ellie above, once they are 16, usually they have legal right to choose where they are living and it might be better at that point (due to the whole hateful mess that it is and exacerbated by the bedroom situation) to see their dad for private dinners or outings (with just him and them) instead of overnight visitations, which, really, in a big family like this are more about navigating step sibling dynamics than really getting to spend quality time with their bio parent.

    Reply to this comment

  9. By JC, age 35, on 11/07/2015

    how do my bf and i respond when his five year old says “please don’t tell my mommy i was around JC”  she loves being around me and is very comfortable but her mom has made it clear she hates me and drills her about who she saw and was with while visiting her dad for the weekend. I don’t want to teach her to lie but it sounds like she does. we can’t get thru to his ex what damage she is doing so it looks like the best we can do is to be open with his daughter. how do we go about guiding her to not lie but to avoid conflict with her mother? poor girl is only 5!

    Reply to this comment

Comment Form

Straight Talk Advice readers are known for their frank and constructive posts that lead to insightful conversations that help many people! Please keep these guidelines in mind when posting:

  • Be constructive: Needlessly cruel or obscene comments will probably be removed. Be conscious of this so your point can be heard.
  • Be relevant: Spam or senseless character attacks irrelevant to the discussion will also probably be removed.

Happy posting!

Straight Talk Advice Recommends